Bronze figure, greenish brown patina
Allen was fresh from the Paris museums where he saw not only fine examples of classical and academic sculpture, but also the work of the impressionists and the controversial sculpture work of Rodin. Back in Boston, he produced several ideal pieces in keeping with his Beaux-Arts training, but also dove into the style of the great Rodin with his rough handling of clay and his textured surface treatment. Other Americans “as a rite of passage, modeled small, usually male, nude figures in despair, self-consciously aping the position of Rodin’s Thinker, and experimented with exaggerated musculature and vigorous surface treatment.” (Rodin and America, 109)
Emotion was strong in Rodin’s work as it is in Allen’s Cain. (reference A.C.Ladd’s The Slave, 1911 at MFA shown in Rodin and America, 112) Rodin’s sculptures moved! Allen’s Cain isn’t standing still. He is lunging forward heavily in torment over the act he has just committed. Rodin’s figures were powerful and his work was weighted with emotion, an expression that was unconventional for his time. Allen was obviously intrigued as was his friend John Storrs who tried his hand at a Nude Male very much like Allen’s work. Storrs was Rodin’s assistant for a while as was Allen’s Colorossi teacher, Paul Wayland Bartlett. Bartlett produced the popular and decorated Bohemian Bear Tamer, a figure in a contrapposto stance like Cain and several of Rodin’s figures from that same time period. Bartlett also collaborated with John Q.A. Ward, an older sculptor, who created the famous Indian Hunter crouched in the same stance only stronger. Take either Rodin’s John the Baptist or Storr’s Nude Male or Bartlett’s Bear Tamer or Ward’s Indian Hunter and you see the same figure. Add movement with a forward weighted gait and arm uplifted to his forehead to add momentum and then look at Allen’s Cain. The details are not important. It’s the form and feeling that count. (More on comparisons below.)
Cain was modeled in clay in 1914 from a male model he used often, according to the Allen diary, and was then cast in bronze by T.F. McGann foundry. There is no date inscribed, only the signature of the artist as F.Allen on the base by the back foot in upper and lower case letters. The fragile original label in the hollow underside of the base lists the Guild of Boston Artists with a price of $300. (current equivalent of $6,991).The patina is the greenish brown color favored by him during that period.
He moves forward with a bent knee and muscular thigh onto his right foot, flat on the earth with the weight of his body tilted over that side of his pelvis. The left leg is moving forward with the knee bent, heel off and turned with the toes outward and pushing off the ground. The stance is the classical contrapposto of the Borghese Gladiator of Italy and the Greek Apollo Belvedere. Between the legs to add support is a draped mass, wider at the bottom with light showing through front to back at an angle by his ankle. The center support rises up through his legs like wind or a flame to the front of his left hip. On this solid triangular base, firmly connected to the earth, he stumbles ahead, back bent forward, the head partly hidden in the arm that is raised across his forehead in an expression of anguish.
The body is physically strong with the anatomy well-defined. The feet have realistic detail. The fingers on both hands, however, are curled inward, the wrists slightly bent, suggesting an emotion rather than focusing on the anatomy. These are the hands of a man who had just killed his brother and are hidden in remorse.
The face is down and bearded and, like the hands, is partially hidden and not clearly modeled. The attitude of the head is like that of Burgher III of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais with a similar treatment of the facial hair. The style is Rodinesque, emotional with strong movement, impressionistic with the bright play of light on the planes of the sides and back of the body in contrast to the darkened textures of the front. The anatomy is muscled on the legs, buttock, back and arms, while the chest is more impressionistic in its details.
The current owner talked about his feelings by phone expressing why he had enjoyed it for 27 years. He described it as “wonderful and powerful, the most important thing being the grief on the man’s face. He is in anguish. He has a beard and mustache and walks with his hand over his forehead. The other hand is on his thigh. Neither is well-defined. The man is very masculine with very muscular arms and shoulders. The buttocks are exposed and he wears some kind of covering over the front, a tree shape between his legs, like a robe to his waist. [He described it as] a Greek or Roman type abs and chest.”
In Allen’s diary, he mentions Cain in a list of work he did at a time when he was working with Beaux Arts style bronzes and the first of his ideal work was exhibited. What inspired Allen to create his Cain? It is clear that he studied Rodin’s compositions and his handling of clay and tried to emulate the master. In a photo from Paris in 1913 is Allen’s drawing of The Thinker hanging on the wall behind him. Perhaps he had also studied John the Baptist or The Walking Man for inspiration in the figure modeling and the stance. In technique, this rough handling of clay reveals the artist’s process and creative methods, a new way for artists to work during that period. Lack of attention to polished details, the “non-finito” attitude, focuses the viewer’s attention on the form and the movement, the dynamic pose, those elements most important to a creative sculptor.
“Rodin’s deliberate disavowal of the refined execution and polished veneer of classical sculpture was decisively innovative. Moreover, it parallels many key aspects of Impressionist painting, including an emphasis on process and spontaneity.” When Rodin was challenged about the stance, he argued that “the artist’s task is to convey the overall ‘impression’ of a physical act, not a conventional rendition…of it.” (Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 161) So he created the illusion of life through movement, a transition from one attitude to another. In his day, [some of Rodin’s] figures, unidealized and crudely modeled, met severe criticism as being improper, ‘even ugly and shocking.’” Present day eyes see his genius.
In this work by Allen, the position and movement of the figure are most notable. The bent head and the raised arm carry the motion forward, balanced by the extension and grounding of the back leg and foot with the left arm forming more a part of the side of the body than existing as a separate part. So the momentum follows through the upward and forward angle from the back foot to the head, buried in the forearm and the downward angle of the tipped pelvis putting weight into the right foot. The position and movement show the emotion.
Comparisons: The contrapposto stance expresses a psychological disposition. (Wiki) The classical sculptor Thomas Crawford (American, 1811-1857) uses both the position of the legs, the weight of the forward movement and the arm raised to the brow in his Orpheus and Cerberus (1843). Here the figure is more upright as he peers out, searching under his hand in the dark underworld for Eurydice but clearly moving ahead with urgency. Contrapposto was also used by Paul Bartlett in his Bohemian Bear Tamer. Bartlett was often in Rodin’s studio so would have been impressed by Rodin’s use of the stance. Bartlett shows lively action and tension in the body of the young man holding his snapping fingers above the standing bear’s head. His body is ready to spring into action and his pose shows that he is definitely in control of the animal. Contrapposto is found in John Quincy Adams Ward’s Indian Hunter. Here the figure is more dynamic, crouched lower as the hunter presses forward, restraining his eager dog as they pursue their prey.
Allen’s fellow student, John Storrs, also found often in Rodin’s studio, created his own version of the figure in contrapposto. The figures are so similar that it appears they had seen each other’s work. Storr’s Nude Male created a year after Allen’s Cain is similar to it in the rough handling of clay, but Storr’s is more textured. The pose is slightly different. Both figures have the right arm raised across the forehead, the left arm at the man’s side and the left leg behind the right. Storrs’ figure is upright with the eyes, nose and forehead covered whereas Allen’s man is leaning forward, his arm only covering part of his forehead, leaving the rest of the face visible. Storrs shows a more static pose, the figure retreating onto his back leg whereas Cain is definitely advancing onto his front leg. Storrs has exposed the genitals where Allen has covered them. The support between the legs of the Storrs figure is small and tree-like whereas Allens is more like flowing fabric or rising flame.
Signed: F.Allen (behind the heel of the left foot on the base
Foundry: T.F. McGann and Son, or McGann Bronze Inc. Boston and Somerville
Exhibited: Guild of Boston Artists traveling show in 1915-1916
Location: Private collection.
Provenance: Allen to Allen grandson, sold to Beehive Antiques (SLC, Utah), sold to a private collector, passed to his son.
Publications: Reviews written about the GBA show in various cities (no text available)
Literature: American Figurative Sculpture in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Greenthal et al, 1986